INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
November 26, 1997
Everything was getting blown apart in this battle - brick walls, houses, cars, cows, men, women, children. Othic felt besieged and disoriented. Anything seemed possible. He had already torn a man apart with the .50-cal, and he'd mowed down a crowd of men and women who had opened fire on the convoy.
Othic's humvee was the last vehicle in the column. With all the gunfire and chaos around them, it was impossible for the Rangers in the vehicles to tell what was going on. But they all understood that this quick mission into Mogadishu was developing into the gunfight of their lives.
The convoy's original mission had been to load up 24 Somalian prisoners seized in the raid and haul them back to the airport base, along with Delta commandos and Ranger teams around the target house. The plan changed dramatically when Cliff Wolcott's Blackhawk went down four blocks east of the target house.
Lost and wandering in Mogadishu's confusing alleyways, they badly needed guidance. They were directed by officers watching from above on video screens, Col. Harrell in the command bird at 3,000 feet, and U.S. Navy pilots in a P-3 Orion spy plane about 1,000 feet higher than the helicopters.
Before they could carry out their revised orders, Mike Durant's Blackhawk was shot down about a mile south of the convoy. The orders changed again. Now they were told to continue as planned to the Wolcott crash site. But after that they were to load up the soldiers who had rushed to Wolcott's aid, and then fight their way to the Durant site a mile away.
Othic had been one of the first men hit. It happened just after he had seen an RPG launched from a crowd of Somalis. He watched the grenade explode on one of the five-tons, disabling it and mangling the legs of Staff Sgt. Dave Wilson, who had been standing alongside.
Othic had just turned to fire on the crowd when he heard a loud crack. It felt as if a baseball bat had whacked his right arm. A round had splintered the forearm. In a few blinding moments of pain he just went ``cyclic'' on the big gun, firing it on automatic, sweeping the street behind the convoy until Sgt. Lorenzo Ruiz stepped up to take the gun.
There weren't enough vehicles to carry all four Chalk teams and the Delta guys from the target house. Three vehicles had been dispatched earlier to return an injured Ranger to the main base. Some of the soldiers were able now to jump on the remaining vehicles, but the others had to move out on foot.
The trucks had big, fluorescent-orange panels on top to help the surveillance birds keep an eye on them. The helicopters were the troops' eyes in the sky, guiding them through the maze. If everything went well - the 20-man convoy and ground units linking up at the Wolcott crash site with all the Rangers and Delta teams already there - there would be nearly 120 men to rescue the two downed crews and then fight their way out of the hornet's nest.
Othic stretched out on his belly in back of the second-to-last humvee, which had its slope-backed hatch open so he and the others crammed in there could shoot out the back. He had a field dressing on his right arm, and he was using his left arm to shoot his M-16. He was a crack shot. An avid hunter from Holt, Mo., Othic had grown up with guns. The Rangers had nicknamed him ``Little Hunter,'' for he was the smallest man in the unit.
Next to Othic, Sgt. Ruiz was working the .50-cal steadily. The big gun's recoil gently rocked the wide vehicle, which was comforting.
They started off following the soldiers who were on foot, but the helicopters steered them along a different route. A few turns later they found themselves right back where they had been minutes earlier. And that spot was just a few blocks north of the target house, where they had loaded up their prisoners as the mission began an hour earlier.
There they came upon Staff Sgt. Matt Eversmann, whose Chalk Four had been pinned down since the mission began. When a Ranger captain had ordered Eversmann to move his Chalk to Wolcott's crash site on foot, the sergeant had said, ``Roger,'' but to himself had said facetiously, Right. His men were badly shot up. He had only about four or five still able to fight out of the original Chalk of about a dozen soldiers.
Eversmann was relieved to see the convoy approach. He spotted his buddy Sgt. Mike Pringle, a tiny guy, so low in the turret of the lead humvee that he was actually peering out from underneath the .50-cal. It brought a smile to Eversmann's face despite his ordeal.
Eversmann loaded his bloodied men on the crowded vehicles, piling them on top of other guys. As he stood there taking a final mental count of his men, the column started moving. Eversmann had to make a running leap on the back of a humvee. He landed on top of somebody, and found himself flat on his back, looking up at the sky, realizing what a terrific target he was and that he couldn't even return fire. As helpless as he felt, he was relieved to be back with the others, and moving. If they were together and rolling, it meant the end was near. Wolcott's crash site was just blocks away.
As they crossed one alley, a woman in a flowing purple robe darted past on the driver's side of the truck. The driver had his pistol resting on his left arm, and he was shooting at whatever moved.
``Don't shoot,'' Spalding shouted at him. ``She's got a kid!''
At that moment the woman turned. Holding a baby on one arm, she raised a pistol with her free hand. Spalding shot her where she stood. He shot four more rounds into her before she fell. He hoped he hadn't hit the baby. They were moving fast, and he didn't get to see whether he had. He thought he probably had hit the baby. She had been carrying the infant on her arm, right in front. Why would a mother do something like that with a kid on her arm? What was she thinking?
Chapter 12: The convoy lurches toward disaster.